WASHINGTON — As President Barack Obama inches closer to a decision on new troops for Afghanistan, his latest war council debate Wednesday centered on how to strengthen U.S. civilian efforts there and significantly ramp up training of the Afghan police and army.
Obama met for three hours with his national security team, the fifth of six such meetings scheduled for the president to consider where to take the 8-year-old war.
The White House added a meeting for next week, by which time there may be a decision on whether to hold a runoff presidential election in Afghanistan between President Hamid Karzai and his chief challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.
The allegations of widespread fraud in the Aug. 20 voting are among the most troublesome factors in Obama's strategy review. The U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission could rule as soon as Saturday on whether to discard enough Karzai votes to force a runoff with Abdullah. The new vote, logistically difficult to pull off, would have to be held within two weeks.
Though some administration officials and Obama advisers differ on whether a narrower, counterterror-style approach or a broader counterinsurgency mission is the better approach, all seem to agree that increasing nonmilitary efforts to improve Afghanistan's agricultural industry and economy, rule of law and governing institutions are key to any success.
Similarly, the administration hopes to train significantly more local police and army in the hope they could eventually take the burden off of U.S. shoulders of protecting the country from a Taliban resurgence and al-Qaida infiltration.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs denied a report circulating in Britain that the president had made a decision on a troop increase. The troop request from the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, outlines three options — from as many as 80,000 more troops to as few as 10,000 — but favors a compromise of 40,000 more forces, officials say. There now are 67,000 American troops in Afghanistan, and 1,000 more are headed there by the end of December.